Commentary: Serve U.S. fish, not Russian, in school lunches

By Pat Shanahan and Trish Dela Cruz

In this election season, it seems that Democrats and Republicans don’t often agree, but one bipartisan effort in Congress has the possibility to improve both Washington’s economy and the quality of food offered in school lunches across the country.

Our Congressional representatives are focused on closing a little known loophole in the Buy American provision of the National School Lunch Program that allows schools to use federal subsidies to purchase foreign seafood as long as it is cheaper than fish caught and processed in the United States. Why is that so important to Washington state? Seafood producers in Washington are some of the primary suppliers of U.S.-caught seafood to the nation’s schools, and they are losing out.

As an example, the loophole currently lets schools use taxpayer dollars to purchase Russian pollock at the expense of Alaska pollock. Alaska pollock, a member of the cod family, is a mild, whitefish that is very popular with students, and in restaurants and retail products worldwide. Although Alaska pollock is the nation’s largest fishery and accounts for more than one-third of all fish landed in the country, about 60 percent of the pollock purchased by schools is caught in Russia, and is most often processed in China.

Alaska pollock produced by the Washington seafood companies costs a little more than Russian pollock (4 cents to 6 cents more a serving) because it is superior: the quality is higher, it’s more nutritious, and our fishing industry operates under rigorous food safety and environmental rules that ensure safe, sustainably harvested fish products. Pollock from Russia often costs less because it is frozen, thawed and refrozen at various processing stages abroad, lowering quality and decreasing nutritional value.

Washington’s Alaska pollock producers provide thousands of family wage jobs, pay business taxes here and in Alaska, and serve as an important component of the state’s storied maritime industries. Fishing responsibly, supplying a superior product, and generating living-wage jobs makes our fish more expensive, but it is well worth it.

Local school districts and Washington’s fishing fleet are supporting legislative efforts in the other Washington to close this loophole and end taxpayer subsidies for foreign fish products. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, is working with Alaska Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan to strengthen the federal school lunch purchasing requirements. U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Washington, joined by six of her state delegation colleagues, including Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, introduced an identical bill in the House.

Congress should act now to adopt this commonsense fix to the National School Lunch Act. Bringing more high quality, locally produced fish to our schools will support local fishermen and protect taxpayers, school children, and fishing industry jobs.

Pat Shanahan is the program director for the Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers, a fishing industry trade association. Trish Dela Cruz is president of the Washington School Nutrition Association.

Talk to us

More in Opinion

Editorial cartoons for Thursday, Aug. 11

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Melinda Parke sits inside her Days Inn motel room as her son, Elijah, sleeps on his chair behind her Wednesday, April 20, 2022, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Editorial: Purchase of hotel as shelter can be effective tool

The county’s investment of federal aid will serve those who need shelter and supportive services.

Case is well made for removal of Snake River dams

I write in response to Marc Sullivan and Angus Duncan’s recent commentary… Continue reading

Fox News’ take on Jan. 6 committee shows how lies spread

Thanks for the editor’s note immediately correcting claims made in a recent… Continue reading

Recent letter held some truth regarding The Herald

All of my adult life I’ve held moderate and independent views, both… Continue reading

Comment: Mar-a-Lago search could offer quick end to nightmare

Few partisans on either side will be satisfied, but a documents charge could end a protracted fight.

Comment: Trump turns lawful search into play for victimhood

Trump’s like the corrupt Wall Street banker who makes off with millions and complains about legal fees.

Comment: Tragic police shootings point to need for training

It’s expensive, but police need weapons training that better simulates stressful situations.

Teresa Reynolds sits exhausted as members of her community clean the debris from their flood ravaged homes at Ogden Hollar in Hindman, Ky., Saturday, July 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
Editorial: How many billion-dollar disasters will it take?

A tally of climate disasters shows an ever-increasing toll of costs and lives. Congress must act.

Most Read